Copa America Centenario is suffering from lack of attendance

Games at the Copa America Centenario have had an attendance problem. There’s a chance things can turn around in the later rounds, but things have looked rather bad in the stands after the first three days of the tournament.

Except for games featuring the United States and Mexico, stadiums have at best only been half-filled. A look at each game shows that in the four non-USA and Mexico games, Copa America games have ranged from 28.4 percent and 57.4 percent capacity.

Friday 6/3 – USA vs. Colombia – Levi’s Stadium/Santa Clara, CA – 67,439/68,500 – 98.5% capacity
Saturday 6/4 – Costa Rica vs. Paraguay – Camping World Stadium/Orlando, FL – 17,115/60,219 – 28.4% capacity
Saturday 6/4 – Haiti vs. Peru – CenturyLink Field/Seattle, WA – 20,190/67,000 – 30.1% capacity
Saturday 6/4 – Brazil vs. Ecuador – Rose Bowl/Pasadena, CA – 53,158/92,542 – 57.4% capacity
Sunday 6/5 – Jamaica vs. Venezuela – Soldier Field/Chicago, IL – 25,560/63,500 – 40.3% capacity
Sunday 6/5 – Mexico vs. Uruguay – University of Phoenix Stadium/Glendale, AZ – 60,125/63,400 – 94.8% capacity

Overall – 243,587/415,161 – 58.7% capacity through six Copa America games.

So why is this the case? Well for one thing, ticket prices are pretty high. The cheapest ticket from any of the facilities appears to be $58 and that’s before Ticketmaster fees. Add in parking and you’re looking at a small fortune just for parking and a game ticket for one person, much less travel and lodging if you’re visiting. How is a family supposed to attend?

You can get a much better value attending an MLS game in Orlando or Seattle than going to see Costa Rica vs. Paraguay or Haiti vs. Peru, so it makes sense Orlando City SC and the Seattle Sounders can average better attendance than during the “biggest soccer tournament since the 1994 FIFA World Cup.”

That leads into the teams that are in the Copa America Centenario. Let’s face it, which teams in the Copa America are marketable to a mainstream audience or even a casual soccer fan? The United States and Mexico are obvious, but except for maybe Brazil and Argentina, the rest of the teams are a tough sell for anyone to attend other than fans of those respective teams.

You may be able to market stars like Luis Suarez of Uruguay, Lionel Messi of Argentina and James Rodriguez of Colombia, but all three are currently injured. And Brazil’s Neymar isn’t even in the Copa America because he’s going to be in the Rio Olympics. All these injuries to top stars is very unlucky for the Copa America, but it has made for a tough time in last-minute ticket sales.

It seems the venue selection could’ve been planned way better. Since the USA, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina were already placed in their groups and knew where they were playing before the group draw, why didn’t the organizers only have games featuring these four teams in NFL-sized stadiums and the rest of the group stage games in MLS stadiums?

That way, the attendance may be the same, but it would make all stadiums look fuller and thus create an actual demand to give organizers the reason charge those kinds of prices. Then have every knockout stage game in NFL stadiums. Because with the current plan, Haiti vs. Ecuador is being played at MetLife Stadium and I’m pretty sure 80,000 people won’t be showing up to that game. Putting the game at Red Bull Arena would’ve made a lot more sense.

This seems to be a growing issue in the evolving American soccer market. Fans in the United States are no longer just going to any game just because it’s international soccer. Maybe the World Cup can pull off putting any two teams in a match and selling out a 70,000-seat stadium, but the Copa America doesn’t have that luxury.

That doesn’t mean demand for soccer in the United States has diminished. It’s just that the demand has changed and Copa America organizers misjudged the marketplace this summer. It doesn’t look great on TV and hurts the atmosphere and the prestige of the tournament when they are struggling to fill half an NFL stadium most games. Organizers overreached thinking they could sell those seats and now must power through because it’s too late to change now.

About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter @phillipbupp

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